ALBUM REVIEW: Good News by Will Adams

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Will Adams is an alternative folk singer songwriter hailing from New York. I don’t have many background details to convey on this enigmatic artist, but I can tell you that artistically he lies halfway between the folk legends Nick Drake and Cat Stevens. His music is stripped down to just his vocals and acoustic guitar, giving it an immediate intimacy and warmth.

As a songwriter, he has been prolific. In 2007, he released his marathon 23 track debut album Time Lost and Found, following up with Little Brother, Big Sister in 2008 and The Ballad of Reginald Fessenden the following year. Since then he has released a steady stream of singles and this album, Good News, marks his first full length release for a while.

From the first seconds of opening track Magic Garden, with its crystal clear, finger picked acoustic guitar and gentle, emotive vocals, the listener realizes they’re in the hands of a very fine talent. Certainly, the obvious comparison to make is with the aforementioned Nick Drake and there are undoubtedly some similarities; Adams has that same purely poetic quality that manifests in Drake’s finest work and a penchant for alternate guitar tunings.

But whereas poor Nick viewed the world through a deeply melancholy lens as opposed to rose-tinted glasses, Will Adams has an innate optimism and understated joy in his music. Magic Garden encourages appreciating what we have and seizing the day in a poignant way: “Before it’s too late to play these silly games, before we’re old and grey and cannot say our names….”.

Second song Where The Wind Will Blow has another gorgeous, lilting finger-picked  progression and is full of finely drawn and vivid lyrical imagery: “All along the river, the blue ray birds are flying by, across the cornfields and down the lane the farmer walks home in the rain…”. It’s another touching song about not knowing where life will take us.

The following She’s Partial To Fruity Drinks, as the title implies, is rather lighter in tone, painting a portrait of a woman that made me think of the mysterious female characters in Dylan songs like She Belongs To Me and Sad Eyed Lady of The Lowlands. The dry humour in the lyrics acts as a nice counterpoint to the more serious songs on the album: “She likes to go diving in out of town dumpsters, she lives in a house that looks like the Munsters….”.

This character continues straight into the next song, We’ve Been Conned, deepening the detail of this endearingly eccentric character: “She’s good at clearing up messes wearing fancy dresses…”. Fifth track Bread Pudding is built around a lovely descending chord progression and it’s another strangely affecting song about something simple, the eating of a pudding. It’s the measure of an artist to take the mundane and make it seem beautiful.

The next two songs, Prayer For A Homeless Man and Prayer For Frey, are both heartwarming tales, with the former a particularly moving depiction of living homeless and the importance of basic human compassion: “I turned and looked into my pocket and put ten dollars in his hand.…”.

Eighth song Longer Way Home is one of the more melancholy moments, conjuring up the sombre mood of a late night. But the Cat Stevens-esque world wonder is suitably restored on the final track, A Glorious Gift: “Let the guardian angels pick up the pieces….”. This is the ultimate message of the whole album, the dwelling on the light in the midst of darkness and making the most of our lives.

Overall, this is a wonderful collection of songs that work both separately and as a cohesive whole. As a songwriter, Will Adams has found his own niche combining the delicate poeticism of Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell, with the evergreen joie de vivre of Cat Stevens yet also the timeworn wisdom of Paul Simon and Dylan. In these times of internecine strife, this music seems like a glorious gift indeed.

 

VERDICT =  8.9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Love And Blood by Jean Synodinos

LOVE  You can stream this album at http://www.loveandblood.org/

Jean Synodinos is a singer/songwriter and now prolific painter, hailing from Austin, Texas. This is her fourth album, following her first acclaimed releases Breathe, Lucky and Girls, Good And Otherwise. The latter received the Texas Award for Musical Excellence in 2012. Her music is an eclectic blend of country, folk, blues, jazz and elements of classical, brought together by her warm, distinctive voice which has received critical acclaim in itself.

This album, Love And Blood, consists of eight tracks and is a particularly personal project for Jean, as it is essentially about the relationship with her husband who sadly passed away from having battled the disease of addiction, in the form of alcoholism. It starts off powerfully with opening track End Of The World, a bluesy string-laden epic about a relationship on the rocks: “This is the end of the world…a hundred heroes couldn’t save us now…” she sings on the wonderful chorus. A poignant and heart rending song, with achingly poetic words.

What is immediately striking is the emotional power of Jean’s voice, which, combining with her excellent songwriting and exquisite production, makes for captivating listening. Second track This Morning is just as moving, a delicate acoustic guitar led ballad imagining a happy day lying in bed but contrasted with the reality of her lover having left: “If you could have stayed, we could have laid in bed this morning….every feather in the pillow a thought I should have said….”.

Picture is another fine song, seemingly a sweetly nostalgic song about looking at old pictures, but it really depicts how a picture can show the emotional distance between people and how a captured image can reveal so much about a person: “In every picture, look at you looking right past the camera, keeping your eyes on a far horizon…”.

Mercy, Mercy is a necessary contrast after three such emotional tracks, and this upbeat, jazzy track lightens the mood, augmented by tasteful bursts of brass and barrelhouse piano that really captures the mood. Lyrically, this one is a departure, a narrative that tells of a lover being shot down.

The Morning Does Not Suit Your Eyes returns to the more melancholy, sombre style. The haunting, nocturnal feel of the music with its descending melodies perfectly mirrors the evocative imagery of the lyrics (about all night drinking binges). Jean has a real gift for framing a situation or emotion in a poetic way, something that seems increasingly rare in modern music: “You and your Mistress, you stay up every night, out of sight…empty glasses guard, whilst the sun rises you stumble up to the yard….”.

Forgive Him His Sins is another deeply moving portrait of her relationship with her husband, this one again directly referencing his alcohol problems: “Pick up the bottles, the empties on the floor…and a cry from the bedroom – ‘It won’t happen anymore’…”. Wonderful, brave and honest songwriting that contains more depth in a few bars than many achieve in their whole career.

Bark Right At The Moon is relatively lighter in mood, and perhaps the most traditional track here in terms of genre. It’s a lovely country rock ballad, simply about missing someone deeply, with some gorgeous guitar work throughout.

Real Renegade is a sweet and unexpectedly happily romantic ending to the album: “I’m done running round, I like what I’ve found, my renegades days are through, now I believe I’ll never leave a real renegade like you….”. It’s the upbeat finale that feels right in the context of the album after so much depiction of struggle and pain, though rendered all the more poignant knowing the real life events surrounding it.

Overall, this is an absolute artistic jewel of an album from start to finish. The quality of the songwriting, both musically and, particularly, lyrically is of the highest calibre and you can tell the whole album has been a labour of love. It is reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s classic Blue album in the way it lays its heart on its sleeve, and is all the more rewarding for the listener because of it. In an era where the album is quickly becoming a forgotten art form, here is a perfect example of the artistic heights it can achieve.

Alex Faulkner

 

VERDICT: 9.4 out of 10